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The Yankees are Back (For Real This Time)

The 2017 Yankees season has been…well…turbulent? A tale of two teams, they were ghost-pepper hot for the first two months of the season. Aaron Judge seemingly hit a home run every day. The rotation outside of Masahiro Tanaka was great. Betances, Chapman, and the bullpen did their job seemingly every night. Other position players like Didi Gregorius, Starlin Castro, Aaron Hicks, and Gary Sánchez put together All-Star caliber seasons. After a strong series win against the rival Red Sox, and an absolute thrashing of the Orioles, everything was firing on all cylinders for the Bombers.

Until California.

The Yankees’ California trip was a disaster. Players got banged up. The bullpen was heinous. The bats were still there, but their good performances were being undermined by late-game collapses from the ‘pen. This road trip was the start of Tyler Clippard’s presentation of his case for worst reliever in baseball. CC went down, Holliday acquired a virus, and Sánchez, Hicks, and Castro got a little banged up.

After returning from California, the slide continued. They dropped a brutal series against the Angels, and Texas came in and took 2 of 3. Hicks went on the DL after this series. A split with the White Sox led to more injuries; Castro was gone to the DL with a hamstring problem. Holliday also officially was shelved here. Despite the arrival of Clint Frazier in a big way, the Yankees lost 3 more series against Houston, Toronto, and Milwaukee. Returning from the break, they split with the Red Sox, and lost 2 of 3 in Minnesota.

The buck (or tailspin) stops here. The Yankees are back, and are going to be a powerful force to be feared for the remainder of the year. Here’s why:

Aaron Judge

This may seem like a pointless category, but it’s not even close. Most of you would probably scoff at the notion that the Yankees are back due to Judge’s production through the winning and losing. If he’s consistent, it shouldn’t matter, right?

Wrong.

During the series against the Red Sox, fire alarms were going off around baseball. Was Judge done? Surely he had a Home Run Derby hangover — what other excuse would he have for getting just one hit against the Red Sox in an absolutely pivotal series? If this continues, he’ll be a bust!

Pump the brakes a little there, boss. Judge isn’t going anywhere, and neither are his numbers. It’s normal for a hitter to go through a little cold streak, especially after the week he had in Miami. The poor guy probably needed a little time to get rolling after a fun, stressful, and I’m sure long, week.

Don’t forget he took a little while to get rolling in April too. He started off just 2-for-15, but we know what happened after that (hint: a LOT of dingers). Also, if you look at the breakdown of his numbers during the Red Sox series, they really weren’t all that bad. The first game, Judge hit a screamer to short that got caught, and he worked a walk. Not great, but certainly not terrible. The second game, he was facing Chris Sale, and just about every hitter in baseball has big-time problems there. He had a hit in the first game of the doubleheader, and had two balls that should’ve fallen for hits (one over the wall). This is also a very small sample size to be picking from, keep in mind.

Since an off-day against the Twins, Judge has hit 4-f0r-13 with a home run and six RBI. The guy is back — in fact, he never left. I mean, for Christ’s sake, he did this the other night:

Health

The Yankees started to go off the rails when their most pivotal players were sidelined with injuries. I mean, if you lose two hitters who hover around .300, hit a solid amount of home runs, drive in runs, and play good defense, you’re gonna slide a little. If you lose a feared DH in the middle of the lineup who can change any game with one powerful swing, you’re gonna slide a little. If you lose your most consistent arm for a month, you’re gonna slide a little.

The injury bug that plagued Castro, Holliday, Hicks, and Sabathia killed the Yankees. Without much protection around them, the production of Judge and Sánchez dipped a little, and for good reason: pitchers wouldn’t have to worry about anyone around them, completely changing the angle of attack.

However, fear not, those days are over. Everyone but Hicks is back, and they have all contributed immediately. Castro’s first at-bat back was a double off of arguably the best pitcher in the AL right now. Later in that game, Holliday arguably hit the most important home run of the season, and that led to a win. The Yankees are 2-0 in CC’s two starts after the break. The Yankees haven’t missed Hicks’ production as much, thanks to Clint Frazier, but depth ain’t a bad thing. When the team is healthy again, expect results similar to the first two months of the season.

The Bullpen

If you’ve followed the Yankees even just a little bit over the course of the past month, you probably have seen or heard something along the line of “The Yankees’ bullpen chokes another game away.” That got to be a regular occurrence. In fact, they have blown 18 saves. To put that in context, they blew 16 for ALL OF LAST SEASON. That number makes me want to puke just looking at it. Betances went through a stretch where he walked every single batter he faced. Chapman couldn’t find the plate. Tyler Clippard, holy smokes I’m not even gonna say anything about him or you’d be reading this for the next hour.

However, like the injuries, fear no more — the bullpen is back, and it’s ferocious. Betances has stopped walking batters, and has been throwing some filthy pitches. He’s getting a lot of strikeouts, and looked really solid when I saw him against the Brewers and Red Sox. After arguably his worst outing of the year in Boston, Chapman has seemingly settled down too. Chad Green has emerged as an elite arm. Adam Warren has been good.

Now I left Clippard out for a reason here…

HE. IS. GONE!!!

And the best part about that?

THEY GOT TWO GREAT ARMS BACK!!!

David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle are two really good arms to fortify the bullpen. What was once the team’s biggest weakness is now arguably their best asset. This looks like a unit that should be feared again. With a good balance of power arms and situational pitchers, expect the bullpen to catch fire very shortly.

 

So, with Judge doing his usual thing, the team healthy, and the bullpen being good again, what does this translate to? At the very least, the results they got up until the middle of June, so arguably the best team in baseball.

Does this mean 28? Not necessarily. The Astros and Dodgers are still not easy to get through, but if they get there, there’s more than a chance.

Start spreading the news, the Yankees are back.

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